Tackling the slippery pigskin crowd Super Bowl weekend misdirection plays include action pic 'Taken,' chick flick 'Town'

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Can you say "counterprogramming"? Even a preschooler can tell you where his dad and older brothers will be Sunday — on the living-room couch watching the Super Bowl. Where they won't be is the neighborhood multiplex.

As a result, studios tend to schedule pics to open during Super Bowl weekend that appeal primarily to the fairer sex. Such moves aim to give football nonfans something to do Sunday while avoiding a pigskin-weakened weekend for studios' more broadly ambitious titles.

Last year, the tactic saw the 3-D "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert" break big with teens, tweens and moms. This time around, only one of three films opening wide today is a clear chick flick: Lionsgate's romantic comedy "New in Town."

Even more oddly, that Renee Zellweger-Harry Connick Jr. starrer looks like the weakest debutant in the bunch, according to prerelease surveys of prospective moviegoers. The strongest new pic: Fox's "Taken," an action thriller about an ex-spy out to rescue his daughter from the slave trade.

Fox hopes to attract ample female interest thanks to a PG-13 rating and a star stint by Liam Neeson. But execs admit they also are gunning for the guys this weekend despite the preoccupation with the Super Bowl.

"It may not be the obvious move, but there is really nothing for males on Friday and Saturday," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said. "So we may lose them on Sunday, but I think we'll have a pretty clear field for the movie on Friday and Saturday."

The other wide opener is Paramount's ghost-filled "The Uninvited," which also totes a PG-13. Such a rating often is key to tapping into female support for horror pics.

Tracking indicates that "Taken" could take in somewhere in the mid- to high-teen millions through Sunday. "Uninvited" might creep into low-double-digit millions, and "Town" should settle in the middle- to upper-single-digit range.

Elsewhere this weekend, Focus Features pours "Milk" into 882 venues as the Sean Penn starrer finally hits wide release after a frame with 250 playdates. The Harvey Milk biopic's highest previous theater count was 356 locations just before Christmas.

Also, the Weinstein Co. plans an important expansion into wide release for its Nazi-themed drama "The Reader." A surprise inclusion among Oscar's best picture nominees, "Reader" will reach north of 1,000 playdates after playing in 367 locations last weekend.

And Sony Pictures Classics returns Oscar-nominated French film "The Class" — Palme d'Or winner at Cannes last year — to six locations. "Class" has been absent from theaters since a brief Academy-qualifying run in December.(partialdiff)
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